Metaphor as Technology, Module 4: Teaching Instructions

This unit is for very advanced students and should be skipped over in first-year courses. It is designed to illustrate to students that metaphors create a whole reality within which some statements can be seen as true or false. Kuhn shows the metaphor operating in Aristotle's world-view: "substance or matter = sponge," acquiring properties from whatever position it inhabits in time or space. For Aristotle, Kuhn emphasizes, this is literally not metaphorically the case: that is, we can understand Aristotle's worldview by using the sponge metaphor, but Aristotle didn't see his own understanding of matter as metaphorical in any way. The Tichi essay should reveal to us our own world view and its basis in a machine metaphor: it would never occur to me to question whether being efficient (personally) is a good thing, a value I want to adopt! In some sense, then, "humans=machines" is a literal reality for me, just as "matter=sponge" was a literal reality for Aristotle. Once one has accepted a metaphor as literally true, once it forms the basis of a conceptual system, certain statements will be true or false that wouldn't be if another conceptual system were in place. "Humans can only sit and wait, rooted to life," only makes sense if the unquestioned ground of my thinking is "humans=plants." It is false in a reality-system based on "humans=machines." This isn't to say that truth is relative, only that it is systematic: "Truth is a function of our conceptual system" (Kuhn 179).

LEVEL DESCRIPTOR:

Fourth-year or graduate students, English, History

LEARNING OUTCOMES:

Seeing that knowledge is systematic, that truth-claims are relative to an unstated conceptual system ordering what counts as true.

DISCUSSION POSSIBILITIES:

In this unit, I think you really have to walk students through Kuhn's argument. Tichi's essay draws on the Henry Adams read in an earlier module. It does an excellent job of showing us our own unquestioned assumptions.

ASSESSMENT:

The assignments for this unit basically ask students to summarize the readings: if they can reproduce Kuhn's and Tichi's arguments, they have understood, in effect, what Foucault means by "episteme" or Lyotard by "master-narrative"; they now see how tacit, unstated systems structure understanding. What you will look for in each essay is some recognition that Aristotle's statements are true given his assumptions, and that statements about humans are only true if you see them as machines, no matter what you THINK you think about them.

BACK